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Concept: Formant


Crocodilians are among the most vocal non-avian reptiles. Adults of both sexes produce loud vocalizations known as ‘bellows’ year round, with the highest rate during the mating season. Although the specific function of these vocalizations remains unclear, they may advertise the caller’s body size, because relative size differences strongly affect courtship and territorial behaviour in crocodilians. In mammals and birds, a common mechanism for producing honest acoustic signals of body size is via formant frequencies (vocal tract resonances). To our knowledge, formants have to date never been documented in any non-avian reptile, and formants do not seem to play a role in the vocalizations of anurans. We tested for formants in crocodilian vocalizations by using playbacks to induce a female Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) to bellow in an airtight chamber. During vocalizations, the animal inhaled either normal air or a helium/oxygen mixture (heliox) in which the velocity of sound is increased. Although heliox allows normal respiration, it alters the formant distribution of the sound spectrum. An acoustic analysis of the calls showed that the source signal components remained constant under both conditions, but an upward shift of high-energy frequency bands was observed in heliox. We conclude that these frequency bands represent formants. We suggest that crocodilian vocalizations could thus provide an acoustic indication of body size via formants. Because birds and crocodilians share a common ancestor with all dinosaurs, a better understanding of their vocal production systems may also provide insight into the communication of extinct Archosaurians.

Concepts: Reptile, Acoustics, Sound, Resonance, Crocodilia, Alligatoridae, Formant, Alligator


To explore the formant-articulation relationships in corner vowels by acoustic analysis of speech signals and measuring tongue contour using ultrasonography.

Concepts: Psychometrics, Acoustics, Vowel, Formant


To learn to produce speech, infants must effectively monitor and assess their own speech output. Yet very little is known about how infants perceive speech produced by an infant, which has higher voice pitch and formant frequencies compared to adult or child speech. Here, we tested whether pre-babbling infants (at 4-6 months) prefer listening to vowel sounds with infant vocal properties over vowel sounds with adult vocal properties. A listening preference favoring infant vowels may derive from their higher voice pitch, which has been shown to attract infant attention in infant-directed speech (IDS). In addition, infants' nascent articulatory abilities may induce a bias favoring infant speech given that 4- to 6-month-olds are beginning to produce vowel sounds. We created infant and adult /i/ (‘ee’) vowels using a production-based synthesizer that simulates the act of speaking in talkers at different ages and then tested infants across four experiments using a sequential preferential listening task. The findings provide the first evidence that infants preferentially attend to vowel sounds with infant voice pitch and/or formants over vowel sounds with no infant-like vocal properties, supporting the view that infants' production abilities influence how they process infant speech. The findings with respect to voice pitch also reveal parallels between IDS and infant speech, raising new questions about the role of this speech register in infant development. Research exploring the underpinnings and impact of this perceptual bias can expand our understanding of infant language development.

Concepts: Language, Sense, Acoustics, Human voice, Singing, Preference, Vowel, Formant


Animal vocalisations play a role in individual recognition and mate choice. In nesting penguins, acoustic variation in vocalisations originates from distinctiveness in the morphology of the vocal apparatus. Using the source-filter theory approach, we investigated vocal individuality cues and correlates of body size and mass in the ecstatic display songs the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. We demonstrate that both fundamental frequency (f0) and formants (F1-F4) are essential vocal features to discriminate among individuals. However, we show that only duration and f0 are honest indicators of the body size and mass, respectively. We did not find any effect of body dimension on formants, formant dispersion nor estimated vocal tract length of the emitters. Overall, our findings provide the first evidence that the resonant frequencies of the vocal tract do not correlate with body size in penguins. Our results add important information to a growing body of literature on the role of the different vocal parameters in conveying biologically meaningful information in bird vocalisations.

Concepts: Acoustics, Human voice, Singing, Sound, Individualism, Individual, Resonance, Formant


Recent comparative data reveal that formant frequencies are cues to body size in animals, due to a close relationship between formant frequency spacing, vocal tract length and overall body size. Accordingly, intriguing morphological adaptations to elongate the vocal tract in order to lower formants occur in several species, with the size exaggeration hypothesis being proposed to justify most of these observations. While the elephant trunk is strongly implicated to account for the low formants of elephant rumbles, it is unknown whether elephants emit these vocalizations exclusively through the trunk, or whether the mouth is also involved in rumble production. In this study we used a sound visualization method (an acoustic camera) to record rumbles of five captive African elephants during spatial separation and subsequent bonding situations. Our results showed that the female elephants in our analysis produced two distinct types of rumble vocalizations based on vocal path differences: a nasally- and an orally-emitted rumble. Interestingly, nasal rumbles predominated during contact calling, whereas oral rumbles were mainly produced in bonding situations. In addition, nasal and oral rumbles varied considerably in their acoustic structure. In particular, the values of the first two formants reflected the estimated lengths of the vocal paths, corresponding to a vocal tract length of around 2 meters for nasal, and around 0.7 meters for oral rumbles. These results suggest that African elephants may be switching vocal paths to actively vary vocal tract length (with considerable variation in formants) according to context, and call for further research investigating the function of formant modulation in elephant vocalizations. Furthermore, by confirming the use of the elephant trunk in long distance rumble production, our findings provide an explanation for the extremely low formants in these calls, and may also indicate that formant lowering functions to increase call propagation distances in this species'.

Concepts: Acoustics, Human voice, Singing, Vowel, Elephant, Asian Elephant, Formant, Overtone singing


Several mammalian species scale their voice fundamental frequency (F0) and formant frequencies in competitive and mating contexts, reducing vocal tract and laryngeal allometry thereby exaggerating apparent body size. Although humans' rare capacity to volitionally modulate these same frequencies is thought to subserve articulated speech, the potential function of voice frequency modulation in human nonverbal communication remains largely unexplored. Here, the voices of 167 men and women from Canada, Cuba, and Poland were recorded in a baseline condition and while volitionally imitating a physically small and large body size. Modulation of F0, formant spacing (∆F), and apparent vocal tract length (VTL) were measured using Praat. Our results indicate that men and women spontaneously and systemically increased VTL and decreased F0 to imitate a large body size, and reduced VTL and increased F0 to imitate small size. These voice modulations did not differ substantially across cultures, indicating potentially universal sound-size correspondences or anatomical and biomechanical constraints on voice modulation. In each culture, men generally modulated their voices (particularly formants) more than did women. This latter finding could help to explain sexual dimorphism in F0 and formants that is currently unaccounted for by sexual dimorphism in human vocal anatomy and body size.

Concepts: Acoustics, Human voice, Larynx, Modulation, Singing, Human anatomy, Formant, Overtone singing


Sound symbolism refers to the non-arbitrary mappings that exist between phonetic properties of speech sounds and their meaning. Despite there being an extensive literature on the topic, the acoustic features and psychological mechanisms that give rise to sound symbolism are not, as yet, altogether clear. The present study was designed to investigate whether different sets of acoustic cues predict size and shape symbolism, respectively. In two experiments, participants judged whether a given consonant-vowel speech sound was large or small, round or angular, using a size or shape scale. Visual size judgments were predicted by vowel formant F1 in combination with F2, and by vowel duration. Visual shape judgments were, however, predicted by formants F2 and F3. Size and shape symbolism were thus not induced by a common mechanism, but rather were distinctly affected by acoustic properties of speech sounds. These findings portray sound symbolism as a process that is not based merely on broad categorical contrasts, such as round/unround and front/back vowels. Rather, individuals seem to base their sound-symbolic judgments on specific sets of acoustic cues, extracted from speech sounds, which vary across judgment dimensions.

Concepts: Acoustics, Phonetics, Sound, Vowel, Resonance, Judgment, Formant, Vocoder


Masapollo, Polka, and Ménard (2017) recently reported a robust directional asymmetry in unimodal visual vowel perception: Adult perceivers discriminate a change from an English /u/ viseme to a French /u/ viseme significantly better than a change in the reverse direction. This asymmetry replicates a frequent pattern found in unimodal auditory vowel perception that points to a universal bias favoring more extreme vocalic articulations, which lead to acoustic signals with increased formant convergence. In the present article, the authors report 5 experiments designed to investigate whether this asymmetry in the visual realm reflects a speech-specific or general processing bias. They successfully replicated the directional effect using Masapollo et al.’s dynamically articulating faces but failed to replicate the effect when the faces were shown under static conditions. Asymmetries also emerged during discrimination of canonically oriented point-light stimuli that retained the kinematics and configuration of the articulating mouth. In contrast, no asymmetries emerged during discrimination of rotated point-light stimuli or Lissajou patterns that retained the kinematics, but not the canonical orientation or spatial configuration, of the labial gestures. These findings suggest that the perceptual processes underlying asymmetries in unimodal visual vowel discrimination are sensitive to speech-specific motion and configural properties and raise foundational questions concerning the role of specialized and general processes in vowel perception. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Perception, Experiment, Faces, Vowel, Discrimination, Racial discrimination, Formant, Small Faces


Examining how increasing distance affects the information content of vocal signals is fundamental for determining the active space of a given species' vocal communication system. In the current study we played back male koala bellows in a Eucalyptus forest to determine the extent that individual classification of male koala bellows becomes less accurate over distance, and also to quantify how individually distinctive acoustic features of bellows and size-related information degrade over distance. Our results show that the formant frequencies of bellows derived from Linear Predictive Coding can be used to classify calls to male koalas over distances of 1-50 m. Further analysis revealed that the upper formant frequencies and formant frequency spacing were the most stable acoustic features of male bellows as they propagated through the Eucalyptus canopy. Taken together these findings suggest that koalas could recognise known individuals at distances of up to 50 m and indicate that they should attend to variation in the upper formant frequencies and formant frequency spacing when assessing the identity of callers. Furthermore, since the formant frequency spacing is also a cue to male body size in this species and its variation over distance remained very low compared to documented inter-individual variation, we suggest that male koalas would still be reliably classified as small, medium or large by receivers at distances of up to 150 m.

Concepts: Species, Eucalyptus, Acoustics, Singing, Koala, Formant, Vocoder, Eucalyptus viminalis


Determining the information content of animal vocalisations can give valuable insights into the potential functions of vocal signals. The source-filter theory of vocal production allows researchers to examine the information content of mammal vocalisations by linking variation in acoustic features with variation in relevant physical characteristics of the caller. Here I used a source-filter theory approach to classify female koala vocalisations into different call-types, and determine which acoustic features have the potential to convey important information about the caller to other conspecifics. A two-step cluster analysis classified female calls into bellows, snarls and tonal rejection calls. Additional results revealed that female koala vocalisations differed in their potential to provide information about a given caller’s phenotype that may be of importance to receivers. Female snarls did not contain reliable acoustic cues to the caller’s identity and age. In contrast, female bellows and tonal rejection calls were individually distinctive, and the tonal rejection calls of older female koalas had consistently lower mean, minimum and maximum fundamental frequency. In addition, female bellows were significantly shorter in duration and had higher fundamental frequency, formant frequencies, and formant frequency spacing than male bellows. These results indicate that female koala vocalisations have the potential to signal the caller’s identity, age and sex. I go on to discuss the anatomical basis for these findings, and consider the possible functional relevance of signalling this type of information in the koala’s natural habitat.

Concepts: Signal, Acoustics, Human voice, Singing, Resonance, Koala, Formant, Overtone singing